Friday, October 2, 2015

Dingle

I knew nothing about Dingle before my tour of Ireland.  I admit I was mildly surprised that we would spend two nights in a place I'd never heard of and not one of the many places I did know about.  It was a good idea to have a two night stay in the middle of our week long tour.  Just one morning off from packing the suitcase, having breakfast with an eye on the clock, etc was welcome.  

We had a relatively late start, too and only half a day of activities with the group.  Most of the afternoon we could do as we pleased.

We had become familiar with the road signs for the Wild Atlantic Way, claimed to be one of the wildest, most enchanting and culturally rich coastal touring routes in the world.  It's a well-signed, easy-to-navigate route which includes 157 'Discovery Points', where drivers can stop and learn more about the must-sees and lesser-known attractions along the Way.  Today we followed the way around the westernmost tip of Ireland — and Europe, for that matter.

I still can't believe I decided to join the group and paid seven euros to watch an Irishman herd a few sheep.  After all I can watch some seasoned shepherds do the same (and a lot more skillfully) at any of my neighbours' farms.  But it was worth it in entertainment value alone.  Gabriel is a very amateur showman.  No, he doesn't rank as any sort of showman.  My guess would be he puts on his little show once a week for this tour group because he needs the money.  You get the feeling he's a genuinely nice man.  If he's to continue with this display he really should get some decent working dogs.  One of his dogs is very old and a bit senile so he has to be kept tied up most of the time.  The younger dog reluctantly sometimes follows directions but wandered off to have a drink of water half way through the task at hand, paying no attention whatsoever to Gabriel.  If it's an act, it's the best I've seen. 


Here are the sheep - Scotch, Texan and Suffolk - waiting for the dog to come back and finish herding them.  I know the suffolk, but don't know which is which of the other two.


Our guide had already explained to us why all the sheep we saw were painted different colours.Some of them had more than one colour.  Gabriel's colour painting wasn't consistent but I didn't draw his attention to that.  Some had red head and red rump, some just the red head.  Anyway, the paint is so a farmer can pick out his sheep grazing on the hillsides of common ground.

Gabrial invited us to have a look around what had been his father's home.  The walk up the hill had me huffing and puffing and the dust inside the house irritated my throat so I didn't linger indoors.


It was a warm, sunny day - worthwhile just standing outside and taking in the view.

 

The scenery along the peninsula is breathtaking.  Cliffs drop straight down into the Atlantic ocean. Green hillsides are sectioned into small plots by ancient rock walls that farmers built over the centuries.  Southwest Ireland has very rocky soil. As the rocks surface in the fields every year, the farmers add stones to the walls. Rock walls are a convenient place to dump the stones and keep the sheep from wandering away.

Besides the scenery, we learned that this area was one of those badly effected by the famine of 1847. Even though the soil is poor, potatoes will grow here; and that is why spuds became the main food crop of the Irish people in the early 1800’s.  The Irish farmers became very dependent on this one plant. When the blight hit and 90% of the potatoes rotted in the ground; people starved. At this time in history English landlords owned the Irish countryside, and the English landlords cared little for the poor tenant farmers.  Amazingly, they exported food from Ireland as millions died of starvation. Clearly this was a bleak period, and the Dingle peninsula was hit very hard.  Tenants' homes were pulled down by the landlords when they couldn't pay the rent, workhouses which separated men from their families appeared, and overcrowded ships filled with poor, starving immigrant families headed for the USA and other far off destinations.

Tour drivers have an unwritten agreement that they will circle the peninsula (and other narrow roads) in a clock wise direction as there are precious few passing opportunities for large vehicles.  The bus that reaches some of the parking spots scores the prize and later arrivals have to pass on by.  Here we are at the western most point of Ireland and there was just room enough for our van and this bus.

 Scene of the Crucifixion looking west to sea at the western most point of Ireland

 Offshore from this point there lies a sprinkling of islands, the Blasket Islands. The most interesting of these is long and quite large with hills that crop up in peculiar places.  It looks like its name An Fear Marbh (the dead man) or the sleeping giant due to its appearance when seen from the east.


The story goes that there once was a man who was taken by the fairies to the fairy world. The fairy world was the complete opposite of our world, a parallel universe.

Because he had been taken by the fairies, he did not realize how much time was passing as he was enjoying the food and the company of what were slowly becoming the beginnings of his new family. He stayed in the fairy world for hundreds of years.

It wasn’t until much later that he realized this and wanted to return to his own world, even if for just a day. The fairies gave him a horse and said that as long as he was on that horse, he could ride into his old world and then return the following day. But, if he stepped one toe onto human soil, then the years would catch up with him and he would die.

So, the story goes that the man who had lived with the fairies for so long had grown tall, to an enormous height, similar to that of a giant. He rode into his old world.

He came across a young boy who was pinned under a boulder. None of the folk around could get the boy out from under the large rock, so the “giant” decided to offer his services. He was after all a lot stronger than most and far larger than anyone else there.

He tried to remain on the horse during his endeavor to save the boy, but he slipped on the reigns and ended up falling on to his back into the sea.  He became an island, his eyes turned into valleys, his nose a sloping hill.  And he can be seen there to this day.

I love those legends!

Other sights around the peninsula:


A famine house from the van window

The Three Sisters and most of the tour group

Back in the town Henry put out the challenge to us to find the best sight, smell, touch, taste and sound.  Of course, we all found something different (but I thought mind were best!).  My sight was two old ladies having a nap on the seat at the entry to the supermarket, full shopping bags at their feet.  Smell was the smelly local cheese I bought to have on a crispy bun (best touch) for my lunch.  Taste - another Murphys icecream, this time sea salt.

I have to tell the story for the best sound.  After I'd had my lunch on the waterfront I wandered around the streets, and, true to form had a look inside St Mary's neo-Gothic church (1862).  The church was empty except for myself and the organist who was filling the space with beautiful music.  After a while a young girl, little older than a teenager, came along and was turning the pages of the music for him.  His grand-daughter, I thought, when I spotted her hand resting comfortably on his shoulder.  Then she sang.  The voice of an angel - high, sweet and true - simply filled the church.  I was spellbound.  I didn't even notice that people were coming into the church and laying out flowers and ribbons in preparation for a wedding.  Finally the movements distracted me and I woke up.  I think I'd been dreaming with my eyes (and ears) open. 


St Mary's and the little grotto next to it:


Dingle is another Gaeltacht area, where the government subsidizes the survival of the Irish language and culture. While English is everywhere, the signs are in Gaelic.  Nowadays no more than a dozen fishing boats sail from Dingle town. But tractors still leave tracks down the main drag, and a faint whiff of peat fills the air. The town is just large enough to have all the necessary tourist services, not to mention a steady nighttime beat of music.

A few random sights around town:

3 comments:

  1. Wonderful images one and all.
    I once watched a sheepdog demonstration in Hawes where the sheep were better trained than the dogs. Hilarious it was much better than a competent display.

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  2. The sheepdog demonstration does sound funny, and i like the story of the origin of that island.

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  3. Thanks for reminding us of so many of these things Pauline. Love the photo of the main street in Dingle and the story of the sleeping giant.
    Erica

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